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The Olympic Spirit

It’s that time again- the Olympic Games coming to you live from Rio.  Set with controversy before it even started, there have been whistleblowing confessions from Russian athletes about performance enhancing substances and at the same time alcohol companies have been lining up to sponsor teams.

While the Australian team’s sponsors rather dubiously include major fast food brands, other teams from across the world include alcohol companies amongst their sponsorship mix –Strongbow for Great Britain, Molson Canadian for Canada, and Asahi for Japan, to name a few.

Last week concerns from health officials in the UK prompted them to send a letter to Great Britain’s Olympic team organisers complaining that Strongbow was an official sponsor.

This is not the first time Britain’s Olympic Committee has faced the concerns of health professionals. In 2012, Heineken was one of the official sponsors for the London Olympic Games, which created a backlash from many sectors of the community.

Following the London Games, a sponsorship industry poll was conducted by Sponsorship Today in conjunction with Think!Sponsorship.  The results highlighted that businesses consider Olympic sponsorship to represent value for money.   When asked “Should the Olympics have an alcohol sponsor?” A small majority (50.7% v 47.6%) said ‘Yes’.  The arguments for those in the NO camp believed it was inappropriate for the games and they felt that the wrong message was being sent out regarding alcohol.

As to those that answered YES, the argument was around that other sports allowed alcohol sponsorship and “there was no real evidence that sponsorship increases alcohol consumption”.  Does this sound familiar?

The argument that sponsorship does not increase consumption has been used by the industry time and time again, despite verifiable evidence to the contrary.  When confronted as to why they then seek sponsorship, the answer in most cases is to seek brand loyalty or brand switching.

The question of alcohol sponsorship of sport is getting louder – so loud in fact that the European Sponsorship Association, conscious that there is also a threat to alcohol sponsorship at the EU level, has formulated a set of guidelines for rights holders with regard to alcohol sponsorship.

The desire for the alcohol industry and the sponsorship brokers to keep self-regulation is strong, and to illustrate this industries are trying to pre-empt any changes to regulation by sleight of hand illusionary tactics that intend to represent responsibility and community conscience on the industries’ behalf.

But – the Olympics is supposed to be about sportsmanship and fair play. If the players, coaches and judges are prepared to swear an oath, shouldn’t we be asking for the same behaviour of sponsors?

Written by Julie Rae & Anna Gifford